MAJOR reforms across the county’s health services are being considered to try to lower the cash deficit. The head of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) says it will end the financial year £6.1m in the red. The group, responsible for buying hospital and community health services for local people, has used up all its reserves in its first year of existence.

Its interim chief executive, Ian Wilson, has warned that tough decisions lie ahead. He said: “The difficult situation we are facing cannot be turned around in a couple of months.”

NHS England had told the OCCG to finish with a 1.5 per cent surplus but Mr Wilson said that prospect could still be years away. A deficit of £7.5m is being planned for next year with the commissioning group hoping to finally break even in 2015-16.

Negotiations on both costs and outcomes of treatment are currently under way with the county’s main hospitals trust, Oxfordshire University NHS Hospitals, from whom the group buys services for thousands of patients. There are also plans for a major shake-up to ensure social workers, GPs and hospitals work more closely together to try to reduce hospital admissions.

The extent of the financial difficulties ahead comes weeks after the new group scrapped its management structure, just 10 months after the OCCG was set up under Government reforms. Family doctor Stephen Richards became its first chief executive last year but he stood down last month. Headington GP and former Labour city councillor Dr Joe McManners has become the group’s clinical chairman.

Dr McManners said major reforms were being looked at, which he says could improve services to patients, as well as bringing down the deficit.

He said: “The system has been under increasing pressure year by year. “But we now have a stable structure to move forward with and will be pushing for closer integration between health and social care.”

A major review of the way the county’s nine community hospitals operate is being planned. Dr McManners said he was keen to further develop emergency multi-disciplinary units, with one recently opening in Witney. The units effectively act as a half-way house between GPs and hospital accident and emergency departments.

They are viewed as an answer to bed-blocking problems at Oxfordshire’s main hospitals and the growing elderly population in the county.